Transcontinental Debate Ignites Over Ridgewood School Board’s Remote Participation Rule

Amid technical glitches, the recent Ridgewood School Board meeting, involving participants from as far as Spain, ignited fiery discussions about the permissibility of remote participation for board members and the urgent high school roof replacement project.

Concerns arose over proposed bylaw 0155.2, which permits board members to attend meetings remotely. Local community member Lori Weber rebuked the proposal, arguing that it would potentially violate the Open Public Meetings Act and ethics regulations. “Every board member that agrees to adopt this policy… is telling these people that you care more about your convenience than them,” Weber proclaimed.

The board president used the platform to welcome Richard Freeman, the new interim assistant superintendent, and reminded community members about the Superintendent Coffee meetings. This series offers direct interaction with board members and community representatives, discussing varied topics from artificial intelligence to special education.

A crucial component of the meeting was an unanticipated addendum to the evening’s agenda – a long-range facilities plan amendment and a resolution to expedite the high school roof project. The latter was flagged as an emergency construction project, opening avenues for potential state funding.

At Benjamin Franklin Middle School, significant leadership changes were in the offing. The superintendent praised outgoing principal Tony Orsini’s contributions while introducing the acting principal, Greg Wu. The school is currently initiating a meticulous selection process for the new principal, involving stakeholder group meetings and extensive candidate screenings.

The board further sought a resolution to ensure the ROD grant approval for a summer project, delayed due to the Department of Education’s slow processing. “We’re asking the board to approve this resolution so that way down the road we can make a case to have them still consider this project for ROD grant approval,” the superintendent stated.

The board also embarked on resolving issues with the music program at the high school level, wherein students must pick between music and other electives due to the seven-period limit. Proposals for change included allowing music to be taken as an elective during free periods, an idea initially presented by Chris McCulloch.

On the academic front, the board engaged in lengthy discussions on the reading and writing curriculum at elementary level and the need for consistent grading policies at the high school level. Emphasis was laid on transparency regarding gifted students’ policies, as approved by Governor Murphy three years ago. The superintendent assured that these issues would be at the heart of the state of the school’s address.

Additional debates revolved around data management and student assessment scores, social emotional learning, diverse hiring practices, and the advent of AI technologies, such as GPT-4, in education. The board concurred on the relevance of multiple, consistent measures over time for comprehensive student progress evaluation.

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